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Haunted by bad credit? 5 ways to fight back

You don't have to sit there and take the negative effects of bad credit. Here are strategies for defeating debt and rebuilding your credit.

By Oct 31, 2013 4:37PM

This post comes from Gerri Detweiler at partner site on MSN MoneyZombie debts that just won’t die. Judgments that haunt you for years, or decades even. Tax liens that block you from buying a home or financing a car. Medical debts that seem to come at you from all sides. Student loans that follow you to the grave.

Ghost © Lise Gagne, Vetta, Getty ImagesWhile these scenarios may sound as overblown as the buildup to a horror flick, for the consumers who are dealing with them, they are very real. And very scary.

If you’re haunted by bad credit, you may feel helpless. But there are almost always ways to fight back. Here are five of them:

1. Face your fears

In every scary movie, someone walks straight into danger: the basement, the attic or the dark woods.  While we think they are idiots for walking straight into a trap, the person who is being targeted by whatever evil lurks there feels there is no other choice. They know they can’t simply run and hide.

If you’re dealing with credit problems, you have to face your worst fears if you hope to make them go away. That means you may have to pick up the phone and talk to that debt collector or credit card company, for example. And you’ll definitely need to get your free credit reports and check your free credit score to assess the damage. When you do, you may be surprised to find it’s not as bad as you thought.

2. Negotiate

In Season 3 of "The Walking Dead," Rick and the Governor negotiate to end hostilities if Michonne is handed over. But the Governor isn’t negotiating in good faith. Instead, he plans a slaughter after she is turned over. His plot is foiled, and Michonne escapes.

While negotiating with someone who doesn’t plan to keep up their end of the deal is a losing proposition, when it comes to your debts, many companies will be happy to work something out. They want to get paid, and they know that many of the clients with past-due debts can only do so much.

If you can’t afford to pay off those unpaid debts that are keeping you up at night, talk to the collector or creditor about a payment plan, or a lump-sum settlement for less than the full balance.

Just be sure to get the terms of the deal in writing to prevent any “misunderstandings” later. You don’t want to hear months -- or years -- later about a debt you thought had been resolved.

3. Strike back

Everyone knows the way to stop a vampire is by driving a wooden stake through their heart. In "The Vampire Diaries," it’s a little more complicated; it takes a stake from a white oak to kill an Original.

When it comes to your debts, federal law provides for specific ways to stop collection actions. You can dispute the debt and request verification, and the collector must investigate and respond before resuming collection. You can remind collection agents that the statute of limitations has expired, if you believe the debt is too old. Or you can send a collector a "cease contact" letter at any time and they must stop contacting you, except to notify you of legal action they will be taking. (If you are dealing with an overseas scam collector, legitimate tactics won’t work, so you may have to get creative and try harassing them the way they do consumers.)

4. Wait it out

The “newborns” in Twilight are bloodthirsty young vampires who wreak havoc until they mature and learn to control themselves. (Some do this better than others.) If they abstain from human blood, eventually their eyes become honey-gold and they can blend into society.

The first few years after financial problems, your credit scores will be a wreck and you may worry that you will never be part of the credit mainstream again. But over time, it does get better. As negative information gets older, it will have less of an impact on your scores, provided you pay all your bills on time going forward, and avoid the temptation of running up debt you can’t handle.

Eventually, all negative items will cease to be reported and you’ll have a fresh start. This usually takes seven to 10 years, though certain information such as unpaid tax liens or judgments can be reported longer than that.

5. Use the ultimate weapon

The Elder Wand in the Harry Potter books is believed to be the most powerful wand in existence.

When used by its true master, it is said that he or she cannot be defeated.

In the world of debt, bankruptcy is the ultimate weapon. It can wipe out debts, stop collectors in their tracks and can even force some creditors -- such as lenders on underwater mortgages -- to negotiate. For millions of people, it is the tool that allowed them to get back on their feet financially.

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Nov 1, 2013 5:44PM

How do you handle an account that goes into collection?  Some say that having a 'write off' or reporting that the debt has gone to 'collections' is just as bad, or worse, than the same creditor simply reporting the debt as 'past due/over due' .  And when a creditor does sell your acct to a collection agency, the collection company can re-age the debt.  So, if you have a past due acct with Macy's (or any creditor) that is on the verge of the 4 or 5 year window to fall off your report, the collection agency who bought your account can re-age it.  Then the 4 - 5 years starts all over again.  And, how about the verifying of the debt?  If you dispute it, all the agencies have to do is confirm that the debt is valid.  And that's it!!

If I dispute something I believe to be incorrect, I want to see proof that validates the debt.  All I have ever gotten is a response of 'the debt has been validated' and the debt stands as is.  I hate the 3 credit bureaus.  I have been victimized, harassed, dumfounded and embarrassed by these bureaus.   They have been given so much power over our lives, it's incredible.  Now I've discovered that potential employers can pull your report.  If an error on my credit report causes an employer to question my credibility and deny employment because of an error, what then?

Mar 10, 2014 2:35PM
There are more ways than are known : Learn at our facebook page of people power and how people are coming together to fight bad debt:
Mar 10, 2014 2:34PM
Amazing article. There are more ways to fight this though, what we call - people power 
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